The True Story of Christopher Columbus

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The True Story of Christopher Columbus, Called the Great Admiral (Lothrop, Lee & Shephard Co. Boston, 1892).


This “True Story of Christopher Columbus” is offered and inscribed to the boys and girls of America as the opening volume in a series especially designed for their reading, and to be called “Children’s Lives of Great Men.” In this series the place of honor, or rather of position, is given to Columbus the Admiral, because had it not been for him and for his pluck and faith and perseverance there might have been no young Americans, such as we know to-day, to read or care about the world’s great men.

Columbus led the American advance; he discovered the New World; he left a record of persistence in spite of discouragement and of triumph over all obstacles, that has been the inspiration and guide for Americans ever since his day, and that has led them to work on in faith and hope until the end they strove for was won.

“The True Story of Christopher Columbus” will be followed by the “true story” of others who have left names for us to honor and revere, who have made the world better because they lived, and who have helped to make and to develop American freedom, strength, and progress.

It will be the endeavor to have all these presented in the simple, straightforward, earnest way that appeals to children, and shows how the hero can be the man, and the man the hero. (i)

The Natives seeing Columbus for the first time:

And when the naked and astonished people of the island saw all this- the canoes with wings, as they called the ships, the richly-dressed men with white and bearded faces, the flags and swords, and the people kneeling about this grand-looking old man in the crimson cloak- they said to one another; These men are gods, they have come from Heaven to see us. And then, they, too, fell on the ground and worshipped these men from Heaven, as they supposed Columbus and his sailors to be.

And when they found that the men from Heaven did not offer to hurt them, they came nearer; and the man in the crimson cloak gave them beads and pieces of bright cloth and other beautiful things they had never seen before, and this made them feel all the more certain that these men who had come to see them in the canoes with wings must really be from Heaven. So they brought them fruits and flowers, and feathers and birds as presents; and both parties, the men with clothes, and the men without clothes, got on very well together. (78)

Columbus’s early explorations and author commentary on slavery:

Day after day he sailed among these beautiful tropic islands, and of them and of the people who lived upon them he wrote to the king and queen of Spain: “This country excels all others as far as the day surpasses the night in splendor. The natives love their neighbors as themselves; their conversation is the sweetest imaginable; their faces smiling; and so gentle and so affectionate are they, that I swear to Your Highness there is not a better people in the world.”

Does it not seem a pity that so great a man should have acted so meanly towards these innocent people who loved and trusted him so? For it was Columbus who first stole them away from their island homes and who first thought of making them slaves to the white men.(81)

Further commentary by author on slavery:

It is not pleasant to think of this of so great a man as Columbus. But it is true, and he is really the man who, started the slave-trade in America. Of course things were very different in his time from what they are to-day, and people did not think so badly of this horrible business. But some good men did, and spoke out boldly against it. What they said was not of much use, however, and slavery was started in the new world. And from that act of Columbus came much sorrow and trouble for the land he found. Even the great war between the northern and southern sections of our own United States, upon one side or the other of which your fathers, or your grandfathers perhaps, fought with gun and sword, was brought about by this act of the great Admiral Columbus hundreds of years before.(103)


  1. How is Columbus described in this account?

  1. According to this book, what was the first meeting between Columbus and the Natives like?

  1. How is the slave trade explained in this source?

Howard Zinn. A People’s History of the United States 1492-Present, 1999.

Chapter 1: Columbus, the Indians, and Human Progress

Arawak men and women, naked, tawny, and full of wonder, emerged from their villages onto the island’s beaches and swam out to get a closer look at the strange big boat. When Columbus and his sailors came ashore, carrying swords, speaking oddly, the Arawaks ran to greet them, brought them food, water gifts. He later wrote of this in his log:

“They…brought us parrots and ball of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and hawks’ bell. They willingly traded everything they owned…They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features…They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane…They would make fine servants…With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.” (1)

Columbus wrote:

‘As soon as I arrived in the Indies, on the first Island which I found, I took some of the natives by force in order that they might learn and might give me information of whatever there is in these parts.’

The information that Columbus wanted most was: Where is the gold? He had persuaded the king and queen of Spain to finance an expedition to the lands, the wealth, he expected would be on the other side of the Atlantic- the Indies and Asia, gold and spices. For, like other informed people of his time, he knew the world was round and he could sail west in order to get to the Far East…

In return for bringing back gold and spices, they promised Columbus 10 percent of the profits, governorship over new-found lands, and the fame that would go with a new title: Admiral of the Ocean Sea…(2)

In the year 1495, they went on a great slave raid, rounded up fifteen hundred Arawak men, women, and children, put them in pens guarded by Spaniards and dogs, then picked the five hundred best specimens to load onto ships. Of those five hundred, two hundred died en route. The rest arrived alive in Spain and were put up for sale by the archdeacon of the town, who reported that, although the slaves were “naked as the day they were born,” they showed “no more embarrassment than animals.” Columbus later wrote: “Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold.”

But too many of the slaves died in captivity. And so Columbus, desperate to pay back dividends to those who had invested, had to make good his promise to fill the ships with gold. In the province of Cicao on Haiti, where he and his men imagined huge gold fields to exist, they ordered all persons fourteen years or older to collect a certain quantity of gold every three months. When they brought it, they were given copper tokens to hang around their necks. Indian found to be without a copper token had their hands cut off and bled to death… (4)

When it became clear that there was no gold left, the Indians were taken as slave labor on huge estates, known later as encomiendas. They were worked at ferocious paces, and died by the thousands. By the year 1515, there were perhaps fifty thousand Indians left. By 1550, there were five hundred. A report of the year 1650 shows none of the original Arawaks or their descendants left on the island…(5)

To emphasize the heroism of Columbus and his successors as navigators and discoverers, and to deemphasize their genocide, is not a technical necessity but an ideological choice. It serves- unwittingly- to justify what was done…(9)


  1. How is Columbus depicted in this excerpt?

  1. How is the slave trade described in this excerpt?

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